Version 11 – January 2016
Hello Captain Rich,
My question is regarding the recent German-wings crash over the French alps.
- In an airline multi crew environment. How is it that the Captain can leave his fellow co-pilot all by himself in the cockpit alone to monitor, fly and manage the aircraft systems?
- Even if the pilot was locked out and reported bangs were heard on the door, an attempt by him (the Captain) to get back into the cockpit were heard on the CVR; how is it that the Captain didn’t use the cockpit-outside door emergency pass-code to gain entry?
- What’s your opinion on this. A man passionate about flying, could he really pull forward a deliberate yet inhumane move?
- If situations and events such as this occur, how can passengers look forward to trust their pilots flying the aircraft?
I am shocked at this incident and am a nervous flier myself. Looking forward for an insight to this Dear Captain Rich.
Flying today is safer than at any other time in the 111 years since powered flight.
Charles Rolls (of Rolls-Royce) was the first Briton to die (1910) in an aircraft accident, from a fractured skull when the tail of his Wright Flyer broke off at a height of 20 feet.
Today, one aircraft passenger dies for every 123,000 passenger-years of flight. I calculate that flying is about 2,600 times safer than driving cars and that only one in 4.5 pilots (of 4 engine aircraft) will ever experience an engine failure during their entire career.
Lady, you want me to answer you if this old airplane is safe to fly? Just how in the world do you think it got to be this old? (Jim Tavenner)
Yet our insatiable appetite for the immediate 24 hour news cycle and our demands for answers (where there might be none) drives many of us down the illogical mental road to fear of flying, stress, dread and paranoia.
Our perceptions are far from a replica of reality. Fear:
- warps our body model and perceptions,
- preys on our conscious and unconscious worries, and
- continually resets our appetite for risk, rewards and affects our decision making.
Healthy fear can be good. Fear based upon rational thought improves our chances for survival. It helps us to make good decisions to change our behaviour, like running away from tigers, mitigating threats. Healthy fear is the key to our survival.
Unhealthy fear is counter-productive to the human condition. It is not helpful to fear something that enhances our survival.
I am writing more about this topic in my next book.
Chapman University has published an excellent survey of American fears. This 2015 survey is an excellent review of 1,541 Americans and their 88 types of fears across many domains. 15.2 percent of the group experienced a “Fear of Flying” ranking it 9th in the list of Personal Anxieties.
Ranking Dangerous Activities
Each of the following activities increases your risk of death by 1 uMort:
- 1/430 th of a base jump
- 1/7 th of a parachute jump,
- each 2.1 feet of a 26,000′ mountain climb,
- 18 hours of human life (USA residents add another 1 uMort/3.6 days for risk of gun death)
- 1 horse ride,
- 2 ecstasy tablets,
- 6 miles (10 km) by motorbike,
- 10 miles (18 km) by bicycle,
- 12 miles (19 km) by private aircraft,
- 17 miles (27 km) by walking,
- 230 miles (370 km) by car,
- 666 roller coaster rides,
- 6,000 miles (9,656 km) by train, or
- 9,300 miles (14,880 km) by commercial jet aircraft (RDC calculated for EOY 2014)
Please read my answers below to your questions:
Q 1. In an airline multi crew environment. How is it that the Captain can leave his fellow co-pilot all by himself in the cockpit alone to monitor, fly and manage the aircraft systems?
Automated commercial jet aircraft can be flown safely in low workload situations (during the cruise, no threats such as busy airspace, adverse weather, terrain, fuel, aircraft serviceability) by one well trained, experienced and knowledgeable pilot.
The USA Federal Aviation Authority requires first officer pilots to have at least 1500 hours of flying experience.
Cockpits are designed so that any one of the two pilots can operate the aircraft. Commercial jet aircraft are piloted by two pilots to share tasks and for resilience in the case that one pilot becomes incapacitated. Pilots are required (and tested in simulators) to show that they can recover their aircraft to a safe landing when the other pilot is incapacitated. Pilots are rarely incapacitated.
Pilots must be able to visit the toilet during flight.
A cabin attendant who is positioned in the cockpit to relieve a pilot who has taken a toilet break, is NOT permitted (by law) to take a control seat and is NOT capable of flying the aircraft. Such a cabin attendant would be available only to assist the absent pilot to return to the flight deck .
It is interesting that the third objective of the future ACROSS project is to have passenger jet aircraft piloted by just one pilot.
Q 2. Even if the pilot was locked out and reported bangs were heard on the door, an attempt by him (the Captain) to get back into the cockpit were heard on the CVR; how is it that the Captain didn’t use the cockpit-outside door emergency pass-code to gain entry?
Wait for the report on this topic.
Perhaps the captain did use the emergency procedure to try to reenter the cockpit, but that these efforts were thwarted by the conscious actions of the pilot in the cockpit. The captain would have been able to re-enter the cockpit if the pilot in the cockpit had been incapacitated.
Q 3. What’s your opinion on this. A man passionate about flying, could he really pull forward a deliberate yet inhumane move?
History teaches us that humans have always been capable of inhumane acts. It must be the aim of a rational and compassionate society to set the values and beliefs, maintain standards, and to create procedures to remove the threat of inhumane terrorists, criminals, politicians, leaders …
Q 4. If situation and events such as this occur, how can passengers look forward to trust their pilots flying the aircraft?
Keep calm David! Fear is the barrier between ignorance and understanding. Move beyond fear and think sensibly (street-smart) about risk, safety, security, privacy and reprisal.
I feel safe. I hope I can make you feel safe
Over the last 40 years, 591 people have died world-wide in 11 commercial jet suicide events. 591 people in 40 years. Comparing this world wide death rate with USA death rates, we find that 591 people die in the USA at least:
- every 1 day from preventable hospital deaths (1 day based on data for 1999. For 2014, this report suggests that more than 400,000 people died from preventable deaths every year (or 591 people every 13 hours!) or
- every 7 days from gun deaths or
- every 7 days from road deaths.
Even worse, 591 people die on the world’s roads every FOUR hours.
Last year in aviation there was:
- 1 hull loss per 4.4 million flights
- 12 fatal aircraft accidents in 38 million flights
- 641 fatalities for 3.3 billion seats occupied by passengers
My aim in providing these statistics is to avert unnecessary panic and fear.
Think about, understand, measure and appreciate risk. You have no more control as a patient in a hospital than you do as a passenger in an aircraft. If you are happy to be treated in a hospital, then you should feel happy to fly in commercial jet aircraft.
If the USA enforced the same safety standards and responsibilities onto the hospital industry as it enforces on aviation, then the hospital industry would be shut down within one week.
Don’t Panic. Don’t be drawn in by the media to be fearful of flight.
The first step to countering fear is to stop, think and weigh up the options and their risks before you act.
Be patient and let the investigators do their job. Wait for their report. Only when the full facts are published will it be the time for the industry to react in a logical and constructive manner. We need to be careful to not overreact and take a step too far.
Changes must be targeted to address the “elephant in the room” that is mental health and post traumatic stress. Good airlines already address these threats by espousing a “Just Culture” that encourages pilots to self report accidental errors and sickness without fear of reprisal. My airline goes further by checking and recertifying pilots six times per year, and by funding 50% of my union’s costs to run the “PAN” support initiative for pilots in need.
Changes must also be measured to ameliorate fear, rather than to impetuously over-regulate the industry which might create additional stress, anger and harm.
We don’t want over-reaction like we have experienced:
- Post 911, the convergence of disparate government databases into one big database, that had the unfortunate consequence of providing Private Bradley Manning access to (release) almost all USA secrets, or
- Post 911 fear of flying that resulting in about an extra 2,200 USA road fatalities as a result of people driving rather than flying.
I recommend the book “Beyond Fear” by Bruce Schneier about becoming “street smart” when responding to threats and risk, and understanding the compromises that our governments make for our privacy, safety and security. Being “street smart” means:
- reading beyond the headlines,
- getting a feel for numbers, risks and threats,
- feeling for efficacy of countermeasures, and
- making sensible security tradeoffs.
Being “street smart” means that you minimise exposure to unnecessary and high risks. For example:
- no standing behind a reversing truck (my very close friend recently became a paraplegic after making this mistake),
- fly only with airlines that satisfy your appetite for safety and risk. Safety is structured. Airlines have different safety standards. Heavy (large) aircraft are designed to satisfy more stringent certification and safety standards than the smaller (light) aircraft.
Pilots are the protectors of aviation safety – not the problem.
If you are looking for perfect safety, you will do well to sit on a fence and watch the birds; but if you really wish to learn, you must mount a machine and become acquainted with its tricks by actual trial (Wilbur Wright, 1901)
I agree with Captain Sully Sullenberger who comments “Technology Cannot Replace Pilots“. We will not have resilient technology to provide pilotless commercial passenger aircraft for at least another thirty years.
You get the experience that you pay for. The four pilots who crewed my last flight to the USA had 61,000 hours of combined flying experience:
- 17,000 hrs – Captain (ex air force)
- 23,000 hrs – First Officer (I think the most experienced-capable A380 First Officer in the world)
- 13,000 hrs – Second Officer 1 (ex air force)
- 8,000 hrs – Second Officer 2 (ex air force)
There are many ultra-safe airlines in the world. The common denominator for these airlines is that they pass the bi-annual IOSA audit that is a prerequisite for membership into the IATA group. The world wide hull loss of 1 per 4.4 million flights improves to 1 per 8.3 million flights for member airlines of the IATA group. Find independent reviews at AirlineRatings.com.
I am proud to be a pilot within this 111 year old impressive and safe industry. Every aviation professional is the caretaker for protecting our safety culture and for saving lives.
99.9999% of pilots go to work with the right attitude to look after you – the passenger. I observe these pilots every time I go to work and walk through the airport terminals. We are a band of brothers and sisters with you being the reason we wake up, we sweat in the simulators to become resilient and we farewell you at the aircraft door at the end of a long flight.
We can never guarantee safety. Just as drownings kill 372,000 people annually (591 every 14 hours), people will continue to swim, go to hospital and people will tragically die in transportation accidents.
My mission is to keep my passengers safe.
I feel safe. I hope I can make you feel safe. Please tell me if you do not feel safe.
For More Information
- America’s Top Fears 2015
- Acting out of Fear
- Americans Need A Disaster Reality Check
Click here to see how aviation safety has steadily improved over the last 72 years.
“I have cringed at the utter misrepresentation of aviation facts” writes Airbus pilot Eric Auxier
Technology Cannot Replace Pilots by Captain Sully Sullenberger
Version 3 – 10 May 2015